five views on inerrancy

Weather permitting, and who really knows anymore?, tonight’s systematic class will discuss Zondervan’s new Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. There is much to digest in this timely book (I marked up the book and typed eleven pages of single spaced notes), but here is a quick summary.

Pete Enns plainly says he does not believe in inerrancy. John Franke doesn’t seem to either, but for whatever reason does not admit it. Franke concedes that even his friends wonder how he could sign the doctrinal statement at ETS and his former seminary, but Franke assures us that he does believe in inerrancy, as long as he gets to define what it means (259-60). Then he writes 28 pages without defining it. He seems to think that inerrancy means letting all the conflicting voices in Scripture have their say. Of course, this is not what anyone else thinks inerrancy means. Kevin Vanhoozer thinks Franke needs to come clean, and until then his view, whatever it is, should be repudiated (191, 307).

The other three authors, Michael Bird, Al Mohler, and Kevin Vanhoozer, all believe in genuine versions of inerrancy. Bird begins his essay by saying he’d rather not use the term inerrancy, but by the end he basically agrees with the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Bird would have made a better case that non-American evangelicals don’t prefer the concept of inerrancy if he hadn’t quoted the Lausanne Covenant, which says Scripture is “without error in all that it affirms” (162).

Bird is Australian, and he thinks the Chicago statement is too modern (coming out of the liberal-fundamentalist wars) and too American. He scores a good point, though Mohler and Vanhoozer do even better when they reply, “so what?” Modern liberalism is coming to everyone’s shores, and churches everywhere will eventually benefit from Chicago’s statement (178, 187, 190).

Mohler plays the straight man (a role he was born for), enthusiastically defending the Chicago Statement as “the quintessential statement of biblical inerrancy” whose “clearly defined language remains essential to the health of evangelicalism and the integrity of the Christian church” (36). The other authors worry that Mohler sometimes transfers the inerrancy of the Bible to the inerrancy of his interpretation (Bird footnotes the Licona controversy, p. 69). Mohler can be too emphatically dogmatic, but it’s still comforting to know he’s minding the store.

Vanhoozer shows once again that speech act theory is the Answer For Everything, and he deftly explains how inerrancy only applies to the meaning (illocution) of the biblical text, rather than a woodenly literal sense. For instance, Jesus’s words that not one stone of the temple will be left standing remains true, even though the western wall exists to this day. Jesus’s point was that the temple would be destroyed, and most observers would say he got it right. Mohler worries that Vanhoozer may be a little too clever—how does one determine whether the author intended to be taken literally or not? (241)—but Vanhoozer managed to both defend the orthodox position and raise it to a higher level.

There is much more to chew on. If you’re an evangelical pastor, you really need to read this book.

3 Comments

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  1. I’ve been looking for such a book for a while now (been disappointed by most I’ve purchased). Thanks, Mike…

  2. The illocutionary force of any sentence of containing the word “illocutionary” is to state, “I am very, very smart.”

    In contrast, the perlocutionary act is to leave people extremely confused.

  3. The illocutionary force of any sentence containing the word “illocutionary” is to state, “I am very, very smart.”

    In contrast, the perlocutionary act is to leave people extremely confused.

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